It feels like the start of a horror novel where something just ain’t right.
The room is dark and unnaturally quiet. There are only a few lights, but they feel overwhelming because they all focus on me. My eyes struggle to adjust to the other wise dark room. The quiet is unnatural, yet I strain to understand the faint voice in my ear: “30 seconds….” My heart rate skyrockets. I feel the urge to run. But, I know I just need to relax—it is only TV. I crank the volume on my earpiece and force a smile as I stare toward the red light from the camera in the darkness.
It is a situation that never really feels ‘right’. As a communication strategist and occasional political pundit, I consider double enders the most challenging TV format to engage in. They are an unnatural and torturous exercise in sensory deprivation.
But, I’m already media trained! Media training is increasingly common for executives and is generally useful for anyone in a public affairs related role. A standard half-day media training will introduce the core concepts and provide a small amount of practical training. It is like taking a couple of boxing classes: you learn the basic stance and practice a few punches. Undoubtedly you are better off, but you are hardly a contender.
Practice makes perfect. Double enders are difficult because they are a situation that is hard to get used to—this is nothing a little practice can’t fix. Four things to practice:
- Flying blind. Having every light pointed at you can be blinding. But remember, there is literally nothing to see beyond a camera and technician.
- Speak directly to the camera. Rehearse in a dark room with a lighting rig where you need to look past the glare and find the red light. This allows you to look your audience directly in the eye (camera’s red light.)
- Hearing loss. Know your good ear—it’s all you get.
- When you aren’t speaking, focus on your earpiece. Practice interviewing over your cell phone with a single headphone while alone speaking to a camera. It is harder to hear and respond than you might think.
- Being constantly watched. You are physically isolated, but not alone. The camera is always watching and captures every expression and gesture.
- Practice looking natural. Practice ‘the little things’ that make people more presentable on television: posture, facial expression, and hand movement. Focus on remembering where you are and imagining how you look. Video yourself responding only to a camera in a dark room and review your physical presentation.
- The need for speed. TV moves quickly, especially compared to radio. You have to be fast and fascinating—no one is interested in hearing the same lines repeatedly.
- Prepare and practice material. Be quick and concise. At the most basic level, this means having talking points that you want to deliver. Better yet,internalizethe key points and practice reiterating them. Rehearse blocks of messages that you want to say, and look for opportunities to put the pieces together.
Finally, avoid the temptation. In my most recent post, I
rant against make the case that just because you can Skype, doesn’t mean you should. I understand the appeal: using your own headphones and laptop is much more comfortable than being in a cold and unfamiliar TV studio. But, I also stand by my post. Television is a visual medium, and it is much easier to look good in a controlled studio environment. Especially, if you have practiced for it.
A practical (and embarrassing) example. The clip below is of me in August 2015 on CTVNewsnet during the lead up to the October 2015 election. In the clip, I stammer to the point of being incomprehensible and generally struggle to deliver a coherent message. I give this example as an illustration of the difficulty of the situation. Although I’ve been there and done that before, I am clearly rusty and at times struggle to deliver my message. All of this to say, we all need to practice.